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(2nd LD) President urges efforts to finalize constitutional revision by June

All News 10:36 January 10, 2018

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, additional information in last 8 paras)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, Jan. 10 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday called on lawmakers to expedite consultations on constitutional revision, reiterating his resolve to hold a national referendum concurrently with local elections scheduled for June.

"The Constitution is a bowl that holds the daily lives of the people. Our people's thoughts about the government's responsibility and role and the people's rights have changed dramatically from 30 years ago. We cannot uphold the thoughts of the people with an old constitution that is 30 years old," the president said in the opening speech during his new year's press conference. The country's Constitution was last amended in 1987.

Moon highlighted the need to reflect changes in the people's beliefs and values over the past three decades and stressed the need to put the proposed amendment to a vote together with the local elections.

"Holding the vote on a constitutional amendment along with the local elections is a promise we made to the people. It is also the way to reduce our social cost," he said, noting a separate vote will cost an additional 120 billion won (US$112 million).

"I again ask the National Assembly to take the lead. I urge (the parliament) to reach an agreement on a constitutional revision," he added.

It was his second press conference since taking office in May 2017. His first press conference was held Aug. 17, marking his first 100 days in office.

Turning to inter-Korean issues, the president vowed stepped up efforts to denuclearize North Korea, saying it is only a way point to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

"There must never be another war on the Korean Peninsula. The ultimate goal of our foreign and defense policies is to prevent a recurrence of war on the Korean Peninsula," said Moon.

Moon's press conference came one day after the divided Koreas resumed official dialogue after a two-year hiatus since December 2015. The inter-Korean talks were largely aimed at discussing North Korea's participation in the Winter Olympic Games to be held in the South from Feb. 9-25.

Still, they are believed to have prompted some concerns in the international community that, together with Seoul, had been calling for "maximum pressure and sanctions" to punish the reclusive nation for its military provocations that included its sixth and most powerful nuclear test so far, staged Sept. 3.

Moon insisted the inter-Korean dialogue only marked the start of efforts to improving ties between the two Koreas, as well as resolve the nuclear standoff peacefully.

"This is only the beginning. We must successfully host the PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. We must work to the last moment to make them Olympic Games of peace. In addition, we must peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue," he said in the nationally televised press conference.

"Should a stream of peace begin to flow from PyeongChang, we will work to turn that into a strong institution. We will draw out more dialogue and cooperation for the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and establishment of peace," he added.

The president also vowed to work closely with all other related countries in the process.

"I again emphasize this. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a way point and goal in our move toward peace. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that has been jointly declared by the South and the North is our basic stance that can never be compromised," Moon said.

The president noted that Japan was an important partner in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue, but said the countries must address their own issues, such as Japan's wartime atrocities that included putting thousands of Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

South Korea and Japan reached an agreement on the issue in 2015, which Seoul's previous conservative administration under Park Geun-hye agreed to call a "final and irreversible" settlement in exchange for a 10 billion yen ($8.9 million) payment from Japan.

Moon earlier called the deal "defective," largely because it was signed without victims' consent. Most of the former sex slaves still alive have expressed strong objections to the controversial deal.

"We cannot deny the fact that South Korea and Japan have reached an official agreement. Keeping a good relationship with Japan is also very important. But an erroneous knot must be undone," Moon said. "The government will work to restore the honor and dignity of the victims. It will take measures that can heal the wounds in their minds."

The remarks came one day after South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the country will not seek renegotiation of the 2015 deal, but will provide its own money to support the victims.

Moon said his country will separate the history issue from other bilateral issues with Japan.

"I also wish to be true friends with Japan...we will work to improve ties by separating historical issues and the countries' future-oriented cooperation," he said.

"I am confident the countries will be able to work closely together on not only the North Korean nuclear issue, but also in various other areas when the South Korea-Japan relationship moves toward the future," he added.


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